Get a wife!

A piece in the New York Times this week talks about how difficult it is for single people to find a job as a pastor, especially in evangelical churches.

Some, in fact, think that the church is discriminating against singles in ministry. Here’s part of the article.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said it was unfair to accuse churches of discrimination because that word implied something “wrongful.”

“Both the logic of Scripture and the centrality of marriage in society,” he said, justify “the strong inclination of congregations to hire a man who is not only married but faithfully married.”

Mr. Mohler said he tells the students at his seminary that “if they remain single, they need to understand that there’s going to be a significant limitation on their ability to serve as a pastor.”


Don’t get me wrong… I think Al Mohler is a good guy; but I often wonder where he’s coming from.

When scripture says that an elder should be a husband of one wife, does that mean that elders have to be married?

I guess I never really thought that was supposed to be the case.

What if the elder’s wife dies?  Does that mean he needs to step down?

What if a man never marries?  Does that disqualify him?

Was Paul the husband of one wife?

Or Charles Stanley?

Come on, Al.  Can single men pastor as well as married men?  I don’t know why they wouldn’t be able to.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think a wife can be a huge asset to a pastor and his ministry.  But to tell young men preparing for ministry that they will be significantly limited unless they find a woman is… well… I’ll let you fill in the word.

Finally (not to pick apart Al’s words completely), but what does it mean to be “not only married, but fully married”?

Let’s come right out and say it.  Here are two concerns that people have about senior pastors that aren’t married.

1.  That they are prone to promiscuity.  Unmarried pastors do not have a biblical way to carry out their ‘man urges’, thus we think they’re more likely to act outside of scripture when it comes to sexuality.

2.  If they’re not married, some people will think (although they would never admit it) that the pastor is gay.  After all, if he wasn’t, he’d be married.

Both are unfounded.  Pick up the newspaper every day and you’ll see that being married as a pastor doesn’t keep you from either #1 or #2.

QUESTION:  Is the church discriminatory against single pastors?  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

If your church was looking for a lead pastor, would you consider a single person for the position?  Why or why not?




  • Carl Thomas March 22, 2011 Reply

    Al was probably misquoted and instead said a man should be “faithfully” married. Think we can all agree on that addendum to marriage.

    I think I am far more likely to want a pastor who has successfully lead his family to guide me in leading my family. Simple as that.

    In the church, folks are often not treated as fully adult until they get married. Singles ministry often looks more like an advanced youth group than a ministry.

    Al Mohler was just relaying that very real fact.

    • Todd Rhoades March 22, 2011 Reply

      But Al stating the fact, and you agreeing with it does not make it right, or much less, biblical.

      I would be far more likely to want to fit and trim, good looking, deep voiced pastor who liked sports and Van Halen. That doesn’t mean that it’s right or a good thing; nor does it mean that those qualities should be frowned upon when they’re not in a candidate.

      Just sayin’.

  • Matt Steen March 22, 2011 Reply

    While I fully understand the reasoning for the discrimination against single pastors, I don’t necessarily agree with it. A good bit of this stems from the evangelical church’s idea that if you are not married by a certain age something is wrong with you… I can not tell you how many times I had my references telling me that they were asked if “there was a reason Matt is single?” Some churches flat out asked if I was gay or socially awkward. The truth was that at that time in my life I was not in a place where I was ready to be married, and were I married it would have done more harm than good to any ministry that I would have been involved in.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy March 30, 2011 Reply

      I believe this is called “Justification by Marriage Alone”…

  • bishopdave March 22, 2011 Reply

    I didn’t marry till I was in my 30s, but in my 20s pastored two small churches. What I learned:

    1. Yes, being single automatically disqualifies in some people’s minds, because “you just don’t know what being married is like.” Regardless of sincerity, one’s walk with God, work fo the Spirit, there are many who can’t get past this.

    2. Being widowed is not as big a deal as having never been married; widowers know what married life is like, so the stigma is not so much on them.

    3. The perception of, “What’s wrong with him that he hasn’t married?” is below the surface until they know you for a year or two. Or maybe always.

    4. Really hard to score chicks when you’re a pastor. Seriously, where does the unmarried minister meet ladies? At his own church? local megachurch singles fellowship?

    5. The church that calls the single minister really likes the idea that since he doesn’t have a family, he can work more hours. And can be paid half salary. Happened to me at both churches. One week vacation instead of two, because I “don’t have as much stress.” Both churches raised the salary a good bit for the ones who followed me.

  • Brian March 22, 2011 Reply

    We are in the process of looking for a pastor. Single guys go directly in the reject pile and not because of some “must be a man of one wife” (says one bachelor to another). Just like not having a college degree.

    But going through seminary, I’ve seen many guys rush into marriage because that’s what they are suppose to do. Then they get divorced early on. And that becomes a huge handicap

    • Matt Steen March 22, 2011 Reply

      Brian, I am curious about why you put single guys in the reject pile… you say it is not because of “man of one wife”, what is the rationale for it?

      • Brian March 22, 2011 Reply

        I am currently working with a few different churches. One is a church plant who’s main focus is growth, ministering to the community and to each other. This church plant wouldn’t care if you were single or married. It wouldn’t make a difference. But the staff focus is much different.

        But in reference to the comment, there is no stated or doctrinal issue from this more “established” church. The church was running 550 in attendance with a budget over $500k a year. This church is heavy in administration. Staff is more involved in training, organizing, and administration than the church plant. It seems (basic instinctive thought without consideration of any individual) that a married person would be more stable and apt for this position. The application of “if he can’t run his own household, how can he run a church” would seem to apply more with a church that is so overloaded with administration. Am I saying that a single person cannot run his household, no but as a married person I have learned to compromise on non-issues, manage personalities, conflicts, and financial issues much more than when I was a bachelor. Am I saying that an bachelor could not handle the position of senior pastor in this established church? No but the individual better stand out because the assumed group of bachelors would be sent to the reject pile. Do I believe that if Christ sent His resume to the established church that they would reject Him! Probably Yes!

        These are the issues at these two churches. I am expressing what I think others feel but aren’t expressing in this established church. The issue with this and the single male children’s worker has two conflicts. Is this single pastor capable of the job. And is this single pastor going to be accepted by those he is trying to minister to.

        I believe a pastor who is divorced can still pastor biblically. However, will that person be handicapped at specific churches? Yes and it’s better for that pastor not to be there if he is going to be put in a cage and not accepted.

    • Capatin September 21, 2011 Reply

      Normally I’m against klilnig but this article slaughtered my ignorance.

  • Steve Miller March 22, 2011 Reply

    Paul was more of a church planter/missionary than what we conceive today of as a “Pastor.” He definitely was free range, which made him great for the life God called him to; he would have probably not been the best fit for your long term stay put congregational lead pastor.

    There is no preferential marriage status for serving God. Jesus seemed to do an okay job as a single guy in a culture where he would have been expected to marry a nice Jewish girl and settle down.

    Can you be a single pastor? Sure! Just be aware of what others have already said on this board. A pastor who believes sound doctrine about Christian marriage and a pastor who has fought those fights are two different things. You can’t be obedient in simply having good theology; you prove your obedience in exercising that theology. It was like in the Army, we gave newbies a hard time; you may be trained but you aren’t tested. In family matters you may have a diploma but until you’ve spent a sleepless night cleaning up a baby firing from both ends you haven’t earned any street cred. from the parents.

    I wouldn’t disqualify a single guy from leading in a church, but he realistically is not going to be able to speak into some areas with authoritative experience.

    I guess it really comes down to the position you are seeking to fill and the culture you will be interacting with. I remember growing up our youth Pastor was a great single guy and the fact he was struggling with single guy purity issues made him a lot more approachable to talk to about dating than the guy who goes home to a wife every night.

    I love being married but I realize there are some avenues for serving God better suited for a single guy to get involved in; maybe this is really an opportunity rather than an impediment.

    • Kim March 22, 2011 Reply

      Steve, you say that when you had a single youth pastor it was a plus for you as a young teen guy. But as a young teen girl, it can be a little different experience. Young girls can feel a lot of confusing emotions about your good looking single youth pastor, especially if he is in his early 20’s and you are maybe 16 or 17. Having a wife is a good protection for him and a natural boundary for young girls. If his wife is involved with youth it is a bonus because she can also help to build relationships with the girls in a way that her husband can’t. I think the same thing applies to the adult congregation.
      I agree with what you are saying in that you ‘can’ be single but it may not always be the best choice for the congregation. To me it is like a single parent family. Some do an amazing job raising their kids but it is so much better when you have two parents working together. When a man and his wife are pastoring people I think is a more rounded family on many levels.

  • Mark Jaffrey March 22, 2011 Reply

    When we were looking for a new Children’s Minister a few years ago, a couple of people on the search committee (I hate search committees) rejected any single male applicants, regardless of their experience or the quality of their references “in case they are perverts”.

    How can you fight these ingrained cultural prejudices?

  • Daniel Moore March 22, 2011 Reply

    Interesting discussion. A pastor friend of mine attended a seminary and about a third left without graduating because their wives refused to be pastors wives. Paul wished many were gifted to be single (and celibate) like him. Jesus was certainly successful. Though marriage brings unique experiences for a married pastor, it can also bring tribulations. What about a faithful pastor whose spouse commits adultery? I had a pastor friend who experienced that and was fired by his church. His wife did not blame her husband for her affair. The church did believe that the pastor was the victim of the affair but their reasoning was, “We want our pastor to be married.”

  • Michael March 22, 2011 Reply

    This viewpoint is just as messed up as the Catholic Church’s view that a priest must not marry. Both viewpoints are equally ridiculous.

    According to stats (I believe from Family Life), about 60% of marriages experience an affair from one of the partners. How were these marriages protected? No marriage or spouse can add to or take away from the trait that is the biblical principle here: character.

    I am getting married this July to the woman of my dreams, but I have been single during my entire ministry. Over a five year period I was a senior pastor and agreed to marry 14 couples, but said no to 2 couples. The 14 couples are still married, the 2 couples were married by someone else and are divorced today. I have a lot to learn about marriage because I have a lot to learn about my future wife. But I know relationships and have stronger discipline and boundaries than most pastors who are married.

    To those facing cultural pressures and worried about men being sexually promiscuous or gay, my best advice is … to hire a single woman as pastor. It is statistically the safest bet.

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  • Pastor David July 1, 2011 Reply

    Within evangelical churches, there does seem to be (by implication) an idolatry of marriage. That’s why I didn’t stay. I’m now a pastor in the progressive United Church of Christ…….and no I’m not gay. I’m married to a woman.

  • Conflicted July 24, 2011 Reply

    I’ve had trouble keeping a positive view on the institutional church in America because of my time applying to various places during a five year span. 500+ denials from every type of denomination and pastoral role, whew, and about 90% of those because I was Single. At least 5 asked if I were homosexual since I was in my mid-20s and still unmarried. It stung extra hard since I was one week away from proposing to my girlfriend early in those years of search. No mercy. Other churches would hear about me and beg me to submit a resume, and then would drop me immediately in the interview at the point in which they found out that I wasn’t married yet. Some told me that God would not use me in any real way until I had a wife. It’s warped. And yet in the last decade, even though I’m still untaken (which is not my favorite situation, I might add) and unpaid, I was the student leader of my sem class, planted and pastored 2 growing churches, ran six successful sports/outreach leagues with over 200 kids, and have an online outreach and prayer ministry with hundreds of decisions for Jesus each month. I scrape by financially even as a single man, but I’m getting by, though it’s honestly hard not to be bitter and frustrated about the whole situation. I would have given an arm and a leg to have a wife and a large family and be used as a pastor of an existing church. But God has not called us to bitterness…and so much for ‘not being able to be used by God’ without the provision of a wife. Maybe there’s still time…and if not, I’ll still serve God with all my heart. Even so, I wait.

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  • John Morgan January 18, 2016 Reply

    Requiring a married preacher and the way single people are treated are just symptoms of the deep perversion that permeates churches today and the idolatry status of marriage.

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